The Gentrification of Malaya Bronnaya?

Marie Giral

For the last two years, many bars, cafes and restaurants have been opening in Malaya Bronnaya Ulitsa, the narrow historic residential street, where Mikhail Bulgakov set the beginning of his famous novel, The Master and Margarita. Since the gigantic road, pavement and utilities works that lasted all summer 2015 (turning the district into something resembling a building site where pedestrians walked at their peril), Malaya Bronnaya has turned into a one-way, no-parking street, where pedestrians, and cyclists, now have a chance to pass by without stumbling on some forgotten metal pipe, extruding metallic piece or protruding pavement.

The cafes, bars and restaurants used to remain open until very late at night & early into the morning actually attracting both young and older people who would hang around outside, smoking or chatting; due largely to lack of space inside the bars and restaurants themselves. Inevitably, conversation and laughter got ever louder as more drinks were imbibed, punctuated with the ear-piercing roaring of prestige motorbikes and cars accelerating rapidly down the street at high speed. In such a narrow street, noises can only resonate along the residential buildings which run all along Malaya Bronnaya.

Some residents complained strongly, and eventually the authorities decided to put a stop to this level of disturbance and imposed an 11pm curfew when the bars and restaurants have to close. Residents sighed with relief and started to enjoy uninterrupted sleep for the first time in ages.

Perversely, others seem to have complained, in the social media, about the gentrification of the district and its rich residents, promoting a spirit of dullness in their favourite street. I happen to live in that street, just across from three of these hipster places and of course as a run-of-the-mill expat I am privileged. However I am not sure the picture is so black and white. Among my supposedly privileged neighbours are retired (and rather tired-looking) people and elderly workers. Even my landlady had to rent what used to be the apartment she lived in and go and settle outside of Moscow when she retired.

Night-life in Moscow is wonderful for night dwellers and, compared to other countries, the atmosphere is respectful and largely amicable without any evidence of the dreaded binge drinking that has plagued other cities in European cities. But, Malaya Bronnaya is too narrow, old and atmospheric to be treated as if it is the Champs-Elysees.